He pulled her to him as if she were the most precious thing he would ever touch, as if he cherished every moment spent with her.

Monica inched her mouth from his and stared up into his face. His eyes met hers and it seemed they were filled with a thousand regrets.

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“I love you so much,” she whispered.

“You must.”

“Stop.” She pressed her finger over his lips. “I don’t pretend to know everything there is about the Bible and God, but I do know that He said He would forgive us when we ask. If it’s peace of mind you’re seeking, it’s available.”

“In church.”

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“No.” She pressed her hand over his heart. “You won’t find what you’re seeking in any building.”

“I killed a man,” Chet reminded her. “He murdered my partner and attempted to kill me. That’s a little more serious than jaywalking.”

“Do you think you’re the only one who’s ever done something he wishes he hadn’t? You say this man you murdered attempted to kill you first. What you don’t seem to realize is that in some ways he succeeded. He’s reached out from the grave and gotten a stranglehold on your heart and your life.” Monica saw Chet as a man whose life had been shredded to ribbons with the ax of revenge and regret. “Your time of hate is over. You can stop punishing yourself now.”

“My time of love is about to begin.”

“Oh, yes,” she said, winding her fingers into the hair at the base of his neck. “Now, what was it you were saying about the two of us getting married?”

“Soon, Monica, I’m not going to be able to wait for you much longer.”

She could feel the heat coming into her cheeks. “I’m not going to be able to wait for you much longer either. I don’t think there’s ever been a woman more eager to give up her virginity than I am.”

They kissed and the heat of their love and need was like a spontaneous combustion. Monica didn’t know what would have happened if her father hadn’t happened upon them just then.

It was the sound of Lloyd clearing his throat that broke them apart. “Dad,” Monica said breathlessly. “Oh, Dad, you’ll never guess what—”

“Reverend Fischer,” Chet said, taking charge. He looped his arm around Monica’s waist and held out his free hand to her father to shake.

“I take it congratulations are in order?” the reverend asked.

Chet nodded. “If you don’t object, I’d like to marry your daughter.”

“Object,” her father said, laughing. He slapped Chet across the back. “I’m thrilled for you both. You don’t mind if I announce it at this evening’s service, do you?”

Chet looked at Monica, then back at her father. “I’d be more than pleased.”

Together the three of them walked toward the church where the music swelled and teased the golden silence of the night with its lyrical melody.

Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy stood in the choir loft looking down on the congregation that had crowded into the church for Christmas Eve services.

“You should all be pleased with your efforts,” Gabriel announced from behind them in a voice as light as yesterday’s dreams.

The three prayer ambassadors whirled around. Gabriel hadn’t meant to surprise them, but he was well pleased with their accomplishments. His trips to earth were few and far between, but this was a special night, one created for exceptions.

“Timmy has his father for Christmas,” Shirley said proudly, “thanks to a bit of manipulation with the airlines and a certain passenger.”

“We need to talk about that,” Gabriel said sternly. Shirley was new to prayer assignments, and had much to learn. He noticed she’d picked up a number of bad habits from her friends.

“What’s going to happen to Jeff and his family?”

The future could be read by only a chosen few. Gabriel was pleased to offer a view to his young charges. “Jeff and Jody will go on to have another child, but not for two years. They’ll have a little girl. As you can imagine they have a fair amount of readjusting to do first.”

“What about Timmy?” Shirley pressed. “He seems to be a very special young boy.”

“He is. Timmy Potter will grow up to become a top-notch pitcher with his goals set on the major leagues. He has a strong faith that will sustain him all his life.”

“What about Monica and Chet?” Goodness wanted to know next, her eyes eager for a look into the future.

Gabriel was tempted to comment about this last bit of trouble Goodness had gotten herself into with the television screen. He decided against it, however. Goodness’s methods had been unorthodox, but had worked wonderfully well. Chet had gone directly from the Blue Goose to Monica.

“Now, there’s an interesting couple,” Gabriel said, studying the pair who sat in a pew in the front of the church, holding hands. “Chet will go back into police work. It’s what suits him best and he’s good at it. Monica will present him with four daughters and all four will be holy terrors. Their lives together are going to take a fair amount of adjustment as well. They’re both strong-willed people, but their love for each other is much stronger.”

“Leah and Andrew were able to bring Angel home this evening,” Mercy told him, although Gabriel was well aware the couple’s daughter was doing so well she was able to leave the hospital early.

“You might be surprised with what the future holds for them,” Gabriel said. He wasn’t overly pleased with Mercy’s appearance atop the nativity scene, but at least this time she wasn’t racing forklifts along a pier and frightening night watchmen out of ten years of their lives.

“Are they able to adopt another child?”

“No, but three earth years from now Leah will become pregnant with identical twin boys.”

“Twins,” Mercy echoed with delight. “That’s wonderful.”

“I’m proud of you three,” Gabriel felt obligated to comment. Their success had delighted him. “You worked well together.”

“ ‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life,’ ” Goodness quoted the well-known Bible verse. “We make a great team.”

“Can we do it again?” Shirley asked eagerly.

“Soon,” Mercy insisted. “We help each other.”

“I think we should all visit Los Angeles next,” was Goodness’s suggestion. “It seems to me that the City of Angels could do with our help.”

The three looked expectantly toward Gabriel. “I’m not making any promises,” he said, and with a sweep of his wings ushered the three ambassadors into the celestial realm of heaven where the Christmas celebration was just about to begin. All of heaven was awaiting their return.

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